and now for something completely different

Hopelessly epic day. I dropped the family at Mission Playground and because I wished for chai, we made a twenty-minute detour to Four Barrel. Which doesn’t sell chai. So I was very late, but Jeremy got me a yummy latte instead, and I figured I could hop in the fast lane and zoom down, and maybe it was the latte or the classical channel that I had cranked up to listen to Beethoven at volume, but I was doing about ninety when I saw the highway police. Ulp! It’s a fair cop, guv!

I blame my mother.

I pulled over on the left shoulder and saw the lights flash and turned Ludwig down to hear the nice officer explaining patiently over the loudspeaker: “NOT ON THIS SHOULDER. PULL BACK INTO THE TRAFFIC AND PULL OVER ON THE RIGHT SHOULDER,” at which I realized D’oh! I’m in America aren’t I. They drive on the other side here don’t they. Once we’d sorted ourselves into NOT THE SHOULDER RIGHT BESIDE THE FAST LANE, he dinged me for speeding and gave me a fixit ticket for my out-of-date tags, but spared me what he assured me would have been a massive fine for stopping on the wrong side.

I am afraid the nice officer formed the impression that I was not the smartest woman in San Mateo, especially after I forgot his clear instructions for pulling back into traffic at high speed and absolutely not stopping, confused, on the 92 upramp. The last I saw of him in my rearview mirror, he was dancing with frustration and shrieking something I couldn’t make out. I hope his morning improved after that.

Mine certainly did; the peerless Bella was waiting for me in the crossties, cleared after her lameness and ready to jump. We marched all the way to the big arena, where I rode with the ectomorphic teenagers and their preternaturally good lower leg positions. As a buxom matron with a torso-to-thigh ratio exactly the inverse of what’s required in the Olympic equestrian disciplines – I am basically a human corgi – I’m at something of a disadvantage in this class. But Bella and I just click. She forgives my innumerable faults and I don’t even register any possible shortcomings she may have.

My God but we had a great ride. California was doing its best impression of the south of France with the crystal clear sky and the air like chilled champagne. The aspen leaves were made of light and air. Bella’s ears were pricked and she strode out with glad goodwill, as she is wont to do. I can’t remember ever meeting another mare so cheerful and merry.

Erin, who is cruel and exacting, has a particularly brutal exercise where she has us canter between the two rails of an oxer, or spread fence, so that we are perfectly straight as we approach a crossrail. Today’s pattern started with this death-defying chute, took a flying change to the right and circled into a 2’6″ vertical (still pretty high for me), then took a flying change to the left and down through a SUNKEN LANE! And then back to the trot and over another crossrail and a canter circle.

“Fun!” I said, and the teenagers looked at me in disbelief, so maybe I do have something they don’t have after all. I thought, Whee! I can pretend I’m doing cross-country exercises at Badminton. Then I thought Wait. I don’t have to pretend I am riding a spectacular horse through a fun jumping exercise. For once in my life I do not have to pretend to be doing that because HERE I AM! D0000000D!!!1!1eleventy

This was a moment of purest distilled awesomeness, and it was the third coolest thing that happened during my lesson today. The second coolest thing was that on our second try, Bella and I rode the exercise quite well, well enough that tough and sparing-with-the-praise Erin nodded and said: “Not bad.”

The first coolest thing is that after only TWENTY FIVE YEARS I have finally learned what to do with my legs. You’d think this would be a pretty fundamental aspect of riding and you would be right. I am probably not, in fact, the smartest woman in San Mateo. My entire life, my whole riding career, I have had a weak and stupid lower leg. It is not perfectly still. It swings back over fences. Its heel comes up. It loses its stirrup. It has been known to kick. People, my lower leg has been a national embarrassment. If I could, I would divorce it and marry someone else’s lower leg altogether.

WELL. It turns out you don’t just dangle the things like limp spaghetti over the sides of the saddle. Nor do you point your heel down or try to hold on with your calf, my various attempts at a refinement of the spaghetti technique. No. Apparently when your Podhajskys and your Morrises talk about an active thigh and seat, what they mean is to use your damn thigh and seat. Somehow in my last couple of lessons I have found a pair of muscles in my lower thigh that I can use to hold my whole lower leg in place. (Salome says they’re the quadriceps, and also: “Duh.”)

Revelation. When I needed to press Bella into a jump, my leg was just… there. I didn’t have to rock it back or swing it forward. I could just squeeze. When she jumped I was ready to move with her, and my leg didn’t drift out behind me. When I needed to collect her up in a half halt or downward transition, my seat was where it needed to be, balanced on its seatbones. Bonus: I could feel the muscles in her back through the saddle. I really could. They were tense as we warmed up, then softened and relaxed as she rounded and collected herself.

Absolutely miraculous ride, among the all time top ten. I proceeded back to the city at a stately 65mph, lesson learned.

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